|Ida Mann at the Nuffield Laboratory of
Ophthalmology, Oxford, 1966
Ida Mann (1893-1983) was an ophthalmologist of international repute, who blazed a trail for women through a masculine profession. She fought against social convention and family disapproval to study medicine at the London School of Medicine for Women, matriculating in 1914 and qualifying in 1920. After qualification she specialized in ophthalmology and the embryology of the eye. Her extraordinary drive and thirst for knowledge led her to become senior eye surgeon at Moorfields Eye Hospital just seven years later. She was the first woman to achieve this position, and combined it with a private practice on Harley Street.
When the Second World War started, she added the role of head of a Chemical Defence Research Department to her duties, conducting experiments on the effects of toxic chemicals on the eye. In 1941, exhausted by the bombing and daily struggle for existence in London, she accepted the post of Margaret Ogilvy Reader in Ophthalmology at Oxford. During her tenure, she oversaw the building of the Nuffield Laboratory of Ophthalmology and breathed new life into post-graduate teaching, research and clinical practice. She received a personal professorship in 1945, the first woman to receive one. In 1944 she had married Professor William Gye, pathologist and director of the Imperial Cancer Research Fund, and after the war they emigrated to Australia, where Ida embarked on a new era of research into the impact of genes, culture and the environment on eye disease. In particular she confirmed the high incidence of trachoma amongst Aboriginals, and instigated mass treatment programmes. Her energy, drive and continuing curiosity were exceptional and she carried on working into old age.
Her papers were acquired by the Bodleian Library in 2008, and have been catalogued as part of the ‘Saving Oxford Medicine’ project. They can be consulted in the Special Collections Reading Room at the Bodleian Library, and the catalogue can be viewed online at: